Harrison’s robotics center gets $2 million

A federal agency is contributing $2 million to help complete the development of North Arkansas College’s Center for Robotics & Manufacturing Innovation, a workforce training initiative that will support industry in the region.

The initiative, nearing completion in its fundraising phase, has received significant support through the commitment of the Economic Development Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce. The EDA investment will be matched by $5.4 million in state and local funds.

“It’s the missing piece we’ve been waiting for,” university president Rick Massengale said of the EDA grant on Tuesday.

Plans are to break ground this summer on the 32,500 square foot facility and set up training operations over the next two years. The training center, estimated to cost $8 million, will house the school’s manufacturing, machining, robotics, electronics and IT programs.

The training programs will be industry-focused and shaped to provide advanced manufacturing training to Arkansas businesses, Massengale said.

“All of this is done to support the industry,” he added. “We have a lot of industry support in our area and they sit on our advisory board, giving us their input. We really rely on them to help us incorporate that into what it takes to meet their needs.”

The Harrison Center will be one of only two FANUC-certified robotics training centers in the South, according to Massengale. FANUC America Corp. is one of the world’s leading suppliers of robotic equipment, with more than 25 million products installed in factories and innovation centers around the world.

The North Arkansas College initiative is a great example of the state’s efforts to promote advanced manufacturing and training and encourage participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, according to Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston.

“The Center for Robotics & Manufacturing Innovation at North Arkansas College is an excellent resource for the state to continue to attract and develop a STEM-educated workforce,” Preston said Tuesday. “This center is the latest tool in our belt to diversify our economy and make Arkansas a destination for STEM workers, and the EDA grant will go a long way toward making that happen.”

The school will provide advanced manufacturing training for high school graduates and will also make the facility available to companies that want to improve worker training and skills. “What we’re hoping to come out of this is not something that helps the industry replace jobs, but helps improve the skills of its employees so they can keep high-tech jobs,” Massengale said.

Harrison and Boone County have an aging workforce and manufacturing industries that operate in the global marketplace, making workforce training essential for the region to remain competitive, according to Bob Largent, president. and CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“Manufacturing is critical to what we do,” Largent said Tuesday. “The missing ingredient has been a technology-driven skill set to take this aging workforce and give them the skills to stay competitive. This gives Harrison and Boone County the opportunity to be at the forefront of improving workforce skills on the latest technologies.”

In addition to specific training programs, the facility will provide “manufacturing space for the industry” to test new production lines or conduct research and development efforts for potential new products, Massengale said.

Funding for the EDA is being made through the U.S. Bailout Economic Adjustment Assistance Program, which has set aside $500 million in grants to help the industry recover from the pandemic and stimulate employment opportunities in local communities.

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